Nicknamed "The Maradona of the Carpathians", he is considered a hero in his homeland as well as in Turkey. He has won his country's "Player of the Year" award six times, and was recently named Romanian football player of the century.
He played for the Romanian national team in three World Cups in 1990, 1994 and 1998, as well as in three European Football Championships in 1984, 1996 and 2000. He won a total of 125 caps for Romania, being ranked second after Dorinel Munteanu, and scored 35 goals, being ranked first.
In November 2003, to celebrate UEFA's Jubilee, he was selected as the Golden Player of Romania by the Romanian Football Federation as their most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Hagi is one of the few footballers to have played for both the Spanish rival clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
He started his career playing for the youth teams of Farul Constanţa in the 1970s, before being selected by the Romanian Football Federation to join the squad of Luceafărul Bucureşti in 1980 for two years. In 1982 he returned to Constanţa, but one year later, aged 18, he was prepared to make the step to a top team. He was originally directed to Universitatea Craiova, but chose Sportul Studenţesc of Bucharest instead.
In the winter of 1987 Hagi was transferred to Romanian giants Steaua Bucureşti as the team prepared their European Super Cup final against FC Dynamo Kyiv. The original contract was for one game only, the final. However after winning the trophy, Hagi scoring the only goal of the final, Steaua did not want to release him back to Sportul Studenţesc and retained him for the next years. During his Steaua years, (1987 - 1990), Hagi played 97 Liga I games, scoring 76 goals. He and the team reached the European Cup semifinal in 1988 and the final in the following year, champions of Romania in 1987, 1988 and 1989 and winning the Romania Cup in 1987, 1988 and 1989.
Hagi helped Brescia Calcio win the Italian Serie B and get promoted to Serie A, but in the next season the club relegated back to Serie B, and after performing memorably on the 1994 World Cup, Hagi was signed by FC Barcelona.
After two years at FC Barcelona, Hagi signed for Galatasaray S.K.. Hagi did not win any trophies in Spain, neither with Real Madrid nor with FC Barcelona. However, at Galatasaray, he was both successful and highly popular among the Turkish supporters of the Istanbul side. Hagi and manager Fatih Terim built a team that would win four league titles, two domestic cups, the UEFA Cup after defeating Arsenal and then the European Super Cup after a final with Hagi's former club, Real Madrid.
Hagi led the Romanian team to its best ever international performance at the 1994 World Cup, where the team reached the quarterfinals. Hagi scored three times in the tournament. In the first of Romania's group stage matches, against Colombia, Hagi scored one of the most memorable goals of that tournament, curling in a 40-yard lob over Colombian goalkeeper Oscar Córdoba who was caught out of position. He was also named in the tournaments All-star team.
Hagi retired from professional football in 2001, age 36 in a game called "Gala Hagi" on the 24th of April. He's the current holder of the record for most goals scored for the Romanian national squad.
In 2001 Hagi was named the manager of Romania, replacing Ladislau Bölöni, who left the squad to coach Sporting Clube de Portugal. However, after failing to qualify the team for the World Cup, Hagi was sacked. His only notable achievement during the six months as Romania's manager was the win in Budapest against Hungary, the first of this kind for the Romania national football team.
In 2003, Hagi took over as coach of Turkish first division side Bursaspor, but left the club after a disappointing start to the season. He then became manager of Galatasaray in 2004, leading the team to the Turkish FA Cup in 2005 with 5-1 as a score.
Romanian giants Steaua Bucureşti wanted to hire him in the summer of 2005, but Hagi's requested wage could not be met by the Romanian champions. Hagi became manager of FCU Politehnica Timişoara instead, and after a string of bad results and disagreements with the management, he left the club after a few months. Constanţa's main stadium used to bear his name, but the name was changed after Hagi signed with FCU Politehnica Timişoara.
From June 2007 to September 20th (for 2 months, 3 weeks and 4 days), Hagi coached Steaua Bucuresti, had a mediocre start in the internal championship mainly due to the large number of unavailable injured players, managed to qualify the team for the second time in line to Champions League Groups passing two qualifying rounds. He resigned due to a long series of conflicts with the team's owner Gigi Becali, which also happens to be his godson. The main reason for resigning was the owner's policy of imposing players, making the team's strategy and threats. Hagi's resignation happened just a few hours after Steaua's first Champions League game in the actual season with Slavia Prague in Prague, Czech Republic, lost with 2-1.
He is also currently working as an Eastern Europe scout for Scottish Premier League team Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He recently found Marius Niculae for the club but has found no other players to date.